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Modern Art Collection Audit

Insight into the nature and magnitude of the acquisition of modern and contemporary art by museums in the period 1999-2009.

There is only a fragmented view of modern art* in Dutch museums. No one knows for sure what is present in which collection and in what numbers.

* Here 'Modern art' is interpreted broadly and includes visual arts, graphic design, photography and applied art made after 1880. 

Lydia Schouten a Virus of Sadness 1990

Lydia Schouten, A Virus of Sadness, 1990, video-installation, State-collection.

This has lead to competitive acquisition between museums and the much-discussed case of the purchase of a Mondrian by the Rijksmuseum, while a loan from The Hague Municipal Museum should also have been considered.

Fragmentary image

The Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD) - one of the most important art history expertise centres of the world - has a good overview of the distribution of classical art in Dutch museums, but the picture of modern art is fragmentary. Pronouncements about the collections of modern art in the Netherlands are difficult to substantiate quantitatively. Institutions like the Mondriaan Fund and the RKD declared a need for a better understanding of the subject.

Research need

The impetus for the research came partly from the need of policy makers for a heritage audit, and partly from the need to make the distribution of modern art in the Netherlands more transparent and to define the context more clearly. The Mondriaan Fund in particular found that clarity concerning the latter two aspects was clearly necessary.


The RCE has a tradition in the development of inventories of movable cultural heritage. For instance the service has been involved in the inventory of academic heritage, medical academic heritage, collection categories (Musip), the Verkade collection and historical computers. It was therefore evident that the RCE would take up the questions from the field.


The Modern Art Collection Audit (CMBK) took the form of a quantitative research into the way Dutch museums have collected modern art from 1999 to 2009. In 2010, an evaluation was made of the current methodical approach to data collection, treatment and processing. The learning points have been worked out and used to determine the development of the database. In 2010 the review of the connection between collection policy and the Artist Index was also realised (JB correct interpretation?).

The decision for a research project was made based on the following considerations:

• There was a clear question from the field (Mondriaan Fund, RKD);
• There was little insight into the Dutch Modern Art Collection;
• The ICN collection (now RCE collection) was involved in the project;
• The Dutch museums that collect modern art form a limited group, easily manageable as a research area for the Museometry programme.


The project aimed to offer insight into the acquisition of modern art by Dutch museums over the past decade. Future collection policy, collection management and provision of grants are also included.

Question formulation

The inventory was based on the following questions:

Response: 61%

72 museums were approached with the request to provide their acquisition data from the previous 10 years. Data was received from 44 museums. Response = 61% n = 44.


An important additional outcome of the project was the realization that the collection of data on museum collections had to be organised in a less labour-intensive way. This has ultimately resulted in the Netherlands Digital Museum Collection (DiMCoN).